We're driving through a sleepy town in northern Maine.
Michelle points out the window.
"Wasn't there a little sandwich shop here?" It had tables and benches outside with a cute little fence and potted trees. Remember?"
I look over and see a nondescript structure sitting on a flat paved lot. A garish blue and red sign reads: DOMINOS. The corners of my mouth point south.
"Yeah, I remember."
But this isn't a story about bashing your favorite franchise. I enjoy walking into a 5 Guys Burgers every once in a while and ordering a delicious cheeseburger and fries. I appreciate that they play their music a little louder than the average eatery and I don't mind the kitschy, vintage design.
Long rides through country roads spotting dilapidated, old-school convenience stores; that is what I call a good time. There is a lot of character in these charming little stores. Vintage signs with soda-pop advertisement wrapped around the edges, paint chipping off the walls, creaky floorboards, dusty countertops. Sure, the disrepair is a sign of neglect, most likely due to a lack of funds or energy, but to me these things add personality. Would I be mad if someone came along and purchased this decrepit store, added a fresh coat of paint and fixed the floors? Not at all.
I wouldn't even be upset if they updated the menu. Maybe they bring in some fresh braided rolls for the submarine sandwiches and maybe they spread some hot pepper relish on that roll. The new owners will definitely want to install a dramatic floor to ceiling candy wall. Boxes of retro candy aligned on top of thick wooden shelves that span the length of the wall. Words like "yummy" and "sweet" will glow from little neon signs that are placed sporadically between the candy boxes. An 8 foot tall animatronic Bigfoot will let out a growl as it reaches over and grabs pieces of candy from the top shelf, dropping them down to the ground. And just as you try and catch the falling candy, a man at the deli counter calls out your number. Your sandwich is ready.
You drive away thinking that the person who owns this old school convenience store obviously has a strong creative vision, a passion for running a small business, and plenty of money to spend. Maybe just two out of the three is true.
Frank Sievey pulled into the Country Convenience store on a warm Spring day. He and his co-pilot, Annie the Enchantress, had been driving aimlessly and admiring the off-beat personality of New England backroads. She would point at each quirky little roadside structure they passed and Frank would yell: “I LOVE IT!” But when Annie pointed at the Country Convenience store, Frank didn’t say a word. His eyes left his body, flew out of the car window and directly into the store. They floated through a hole in the screen door,past the front register and over to the deli counter; they witnessed a man making a sandwich using hot dog rolls. From there, Frank’s eyes glided to the back of the store where they gazed upon a majestic wall. The wall was large and empty except for some peeling wallpaper and one lonesome Moxie sign,made of tin, nailed to the wall. That’s all his eyes needed to see. They quickly floated out of the store, back to the car and popped back into his head.
”This is it. This is my destination.” He announced. He pulled the car into the parking lot, walked into the store and made the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse.
For the most part, the Country Convenience stayed the Country Convenience. Frank did make a few changes though; he painted the walls, updated the menu, added an epic candy wall and fixed the hole in the screen door. He left the creaky floorboards alone.
It didn't take long for word to spread. Soon all the Instagram influencers flocked to the Country Convenience to pose in front of that jazzy candy wall. It was the hottest spot around. Lunch time was packed with people ordering sub sandwiches with braided rolls slathered with hot pepper relish. People loved those sandwiches. But after a few years in business, the only baker around who could make the braided rolls retired. Frank had no choice but to use a store bought brand. It was painful but the real tragedy came when the giant Bigfoot stopped working. The animatronic arm was broken leaving the candy on the top shelf unattainable. Frank was heartbroken. One day, Annie the Enchantress, was in a session with one of her clients and happen to mention the broken down Bigfoot. Her client knew a guy that could help.
Akira Mirazaki accepted an invitation to move into the room above the Country Convenience while he worked on repairing the Bigfoot. But due to unexpected supply chain issues, the parts he needed to fix the Bigfoot were going to take a while. This left Akira with plenty of free time to explore the countryside. He invited Frank to join him and the two men spent many afternoons having long conversations about monster movies and the meaning of life and if they are one and the same. But once it became evident that the Bigfoot parts were not going to arrive, Akira packed up and moved home. Frank was defeated and depressed. Bad bread and a broken Bigfoot was not something he envisioned when he purchased the small business. He began spending less and less time in the Country Convenience. The shelves got dusty and the screen door ripped again.
One quiet afternoon exactly 7 years after Frank purchased the store, a sharply dressed man pushed open the screen door and walked directly to the deli counter. He wore a tailored suit,his hair was combed perfectly, his nails were painted black. He looked Frank in the eyes, smiled and said:
“I’m interested in some top shelf candy.”
“Sorry, It’s not accessible.” Frank replied.
”How about one of those delicious submarine sandwiches on a braided roll?”
”We're all out.”
The well dressed man reached in his jacket pocket, pulled out a business card, handed it to Frank and said:
"Is there something I can buy?”
Frank looked around the store, wiped the sweat from his forehead and said:
”Well maybe there is….”
After Michelle pointed to the Dominos and reminded me of the small business that was once there, I wondered if things ever change in the opposite direction. Has a small business ever reclaimed the land where a mega-corp franchise stood? Would anyone bother putting the time and effort into renovating the site of an old Dominoes Pizza, tearing up the pavement, planting grass and trees, adding some picnic tables, making it a charming little small biz again?
Maybe it will be someone with strong creative vision, a passion for running a small business,and plenty of money to spend.
REMEMBER SMALL BUSINESSES
by Christopher Larochelle
Hell or Highwater Candle